Addressing the press on Monday on the achievements of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing under his watch in the past three years, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, attributed the delay in execution of the project to flooding.
“During peak raining season, it slows down their work because really you need divers to go under, this is what it takes to build a bridge. So at the height of that raining season when there was flooding, work will slow down.
“They can work only about 15 meters depth of the River Niger Bridge, with the massive flooding that we have now it must be about 30 meters. So if you are doing 30 meters of water that is height of a 10-storey building so they need to wait for it to come down,” Fashola said.
As a media house that has been covering the maritime industry for over 15 years, Business and Maritime West Africa has also developed core competence on maritime issues in Nigeria and decided to fact-check the minister’s claim.
It is impossible to have River Niger attain a depth of 15 meters even at the peak of flooding. Any thought of the draught hitting 15 metres, akin to the “height of a 10-storey building” is not only improbable but outlandish.
Nigerian waterways are notable for their high rate of siltation. In effect, for them to be navigable, capital dredging and regular maintenance dredging are imperative. All the existing seaports in Nigeria are estuary ports or over ports and do not open into the sea as is the case with deep seaports. Rather, they are usually accessed through channels and rivers which stretch for dozens of kilometres.
The channels regular dredging to maintain their advertised draught and keep the channels navigable all year round. Even then, the depth of the channels to each of the major ports is considerably less than 15 metres and they still accommodate oceangoing vessels.
Lagos Port Complex
Otherwise known popularly as Apapa Port, it is the oldest in the country with its history dating back to 1914. Its depth range from 9.5 metres at Apapa Quays to 10.5 metres at Third Wharf Extension.
Tin Can Island, RoRo and Container Terminal Ports
Built in 1977 as part of the response to the immediate postwar port congestion, the ports have advertised draught of 10.5 metres. However, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal has a depth of four metres only.
Port Harcourt Port
The maximum draught for vessels entering the main quays of Port Harcourt Port is 7.62 metres. However, the Bonny channel which mainly handles oil tankers for crude oil export is 12.5 metres while that of Okrika is 9.14 metres.
One Ports Complex
The major facilities here which are devoted to handling big oil tankers are Federal Ocean Terminal with a draught of 13.5 metres, Bonny Terminal with 15 metres and NAFCON Jetty with 8.2 metres. The Federal Lighter Terminal has a depth of 4.5 metres.
Delta Ports Complex
The major challenge of the chain of ports in this area is the low draught. Although port users and the business community have been clamouring for greater utilisation of the ports so as to relieve Lagos Ports of some of their burden, the major impediment is the low draught. Warri Port has 6.7 metres in depth, Sapele Port is 4.88 metres while Koko has a maximum draught of 7.32 metres.
After the last time the channel was dredged under the Sani Abacha regime, the draught was extended to 9.2 metres although the depth could not be sustained.
In adducing the impossible depth of 15 metres and flood-induced extension of up to 30 metres for the delay in executing the second Niger bridge, Fashola must have been reading from a script not prepared by mariners or hydrographers. His statement was seen as designed to patronise the people.
Again, the minister got it all wrong on the maximum depth and pressure divers can deal with in under water engineering. In short, most of the body can handle any pressure, but if divers breathing air the maximum safe depth is about 60 meters while the feasible maximum with current technical capabilities (and special breathing gases) is about 500 metres
Probably unable to proffer plausible reasons for the delay after previous claims by him and other administration officials that construction had reached advanced stage, Babatunde Fashola may have opted for an off-the-cuff explanation that was spectacularly wide off the mark.
As it turned the following day, the sole reason for the delay in commencement of work is that no contract had been awarded.
Although the present depth of River Niger could not be ascertained as the 2009 contract to dredge the river is yet to be completed, silt has taken over large potions of the river making it non-navigable. In acknowledging the low draught of the Niger, the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hajia Hadiza Usman, had last week called for the deployment of flat bottom vessels to the river.
Experts have put the depth of the Niger in its current state at not more than three metres in large sections of the river.